Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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RANSEL, v., n. Also ransell, ransal(l); rancel(l), rancil.

I. v. 1. To search a house officially for stolen goods (Sh. 1825 Jam., 1866 Edm. Gl., 1914 Angus Gl.; Ork. 1929 Marw.). Now hist.; to make general inquiries into misdemeanours, to snoop, pry (Sh. 1825 Jam., 1908 Jak. (1928)). Vbl.n. ranselling, judicial search. Ork. 1700 J. Wallace Orkney 147:
If there be at any time any suspicion of Theft, they take some of their Neighbours with them, under the silence of the night and make search for the Theft (which is called Ransalling).
Sh. c.1733 P.S.A.S. XXVI.199:
That none refuse rancelling, or to give up inventories, or quarrel or offend at rancelling, under the pain to be repute and punished as thieves.
Ork. c.1893 W. R. Mackintosh Peat-fires 109:
Jist wait a wee till I get it into the byre to bed the kye, and this funk clears a bit. Then ye can come in an' ransal an' hunt to your heart's content.

Hence deriv. ranseller, -or, rancellor, ¶ranzellaar, and comb. ranselman, rancel(l)-, rancil-, an official appointed to make search for stolen goods and apprehend the thief (Sh. 1825 Jam., 1914 Angus Gl.; Ork. 1929 Marw.). Now hist. In 1931 quot. of a searcher for contraband. Sh. 1724 J. Shirreff Agric. Sh. (1814) App. 7:
A list of such honest men in the parish as are fit to be rancelmen.
Sh. 1733 T. Gifford Hist. Descr. (1879) 41:
The Rancelman has the power of a constable, to command the inhabitants to keep the peace, and to call for assistance; and to enter any house within the parish at all hours of the day or night, and search the house for stolen goods, which they call ranciling.
Sc. 1821 Scott Pirate ii.:
The old Ranzellaar of the village, who had the voice most potential in the deliberations of the township . . . pronounced that Sweyn Erickson had gone too far.
Sh. 1904 G. Goudie Antiq. Shet. 229:
The Fouds, Lawrightmen, and Ranselmen constituted the machinery of local government and justice in every parish in Shetland.
Ork. 1931 J. Leask Peculiar People 207:
He would stop and boast of some of his exploits in evading the Excise officers, or Rancelmen, as he called them.
Sh. 1948 New Shetlander No. 8. 10:
Faider wis a rancelman an' a Kirk elder.

2. To rummage through, ransack (I.Sc. 1967). Sh. 1898 Shetland News (27 Aug.):
Shü ransill'd trow her kist, an' cam' oot wi' a white cot.
Sh. 1899 Shetland News (22 July):
William ransell'd first his wan waeskit pocket an' dan da tidder ane.

II. n. Judicial search, esp. for stolen goods, in phrs. to make ransell, raise — = v., 1. Ork. 1700 P. Ork. A.S. II. 20:
Having at the direction of the Baillie gone in ransell anent several goods that have been stollen and having come to the pannells house and after ransell made there they did find about foure or fyve merks of gray whyt and black wooll.
Ork. 1701 W. Mackintosh Curious Incidents (1892) 111:
(He being still in bedd) desyred his servants to keep all quyet and not to spread the newes abroad whyll he gott ordours from one of the Magistrats to raise ransell.

[O.N. rannsaka, to search a house (for stolen goods), Eng. ransack, rannsókn, a judicial search. The form in -l is difficult to explain, though cf. the freq. form Ranshackle. Craigie suggests Icel. reynsla, experience, proof, but form and semantic considerations are against this. O.Sc. has ransell, ransellman, 1602, ransellar, 1615.]

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"Ransel v., n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 28 Feb 2020 <>



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